Welcome, children of the night! This Blog is for fans of vintage horror films as well as those who are just beginning to discover the joy of these classic movies. I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971)

As they say, revenge is a dish that is best served cold.  And no one does revenge better than Vincent Price in The Abominable Dr Phibes.  The good doctor seeks to settle the score by knocking off nine doctors whom he blames for his wife's death.  He does so by unleashing the biblical plagues in sequential order with creativity and gusto.  Lots of fun!  Price is one of the few actors who I think can pull off this role.  He doesn't speak a single word in the entire film except for voiceovers which is not an easy thing too do.  His dramatic acting style suits the character well.
The look  of the film is also interesting.  It's very early 70's but in a good way.  Many of the sets are very colorful with modern architectural lines but also contain flourishes of art nouveaux to give it a sense of something older than itself.  Phibes and his faithful assistant Vulnavia are clothed in a way that only the early 70's could produce.  This is especially true of  Vulnavia who looks like she's been shopping in Lady Gaga's closet.  [Or is that the other way around?]
The Abominable Dr. Phibes spawned a sequel, Dr Phibes Rises Again (1972).  I consider the sequel to be even better than the original.  It has more of a sense of humor than the original and feels like it had a bigger budget to work with.  The result is that the sequel is even more visually stunning than the first.
If you're a fan of Vincent Price, this one is a must see.  It's a quirky, imaginative take on the revenge tale.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Body Snatcher (1945)

One would think that a film with both Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi would be a sure fire winner.  However, The Body Snatcher falls a bit short of the mark.  First of all, Lugosi only appears briefly in the film and really adds very little except his name on the marquis. [There's a sucker born ever minute!]  Karloff is loads of fun as John Gray, a nefarious grave robber who procures bodies for anatomical research.  [Just don't ask him for too many details on how he procures his specimens!]  Karloff gleefully fills the role as only he can and adds a touch of humor as well as dread to the character.
The big weakness in The Body Snatcher is Henry Daniell as Dr. MacFarlane.  Ho-hum.  While it's true he's a distinguished British actor with a resume a mile long, I found his performance uninteresting and rather flat.  It made me wonder what Karloff would have done with the role.  
While Body Snatcher is filmed nicely, it just didn't grab me.  I'd categorize it as a melodramatic thriller with an emphasis on mellow.  Not much happens here.  This is not the finest work from Lewton, Karloff or Lugosi by any stretch of the imagination.  This one is for serious fans only.
RATING: Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Thriller: Worse Than Murder (1960)

Season 1, Episode 3
Death brings out the best and worst in people, especially when there's an inheritance to argue about!  In this case, it brings out the worst in Connie Walworth, played deliciously by TV actress Constance Ford, who is upset that she has been left out of her uncle's will and tries to do something about it.  This is an old-fashioned Hitchcock style thriller.  It treads familiar territory but it tells the story well.  Ms. Ford is front and center in this drama and her performance is wonderful.  She lights up every scene she's in and makes Worse than Murder an enjoyable ride.  [She also appeared in Episode 1, The Twisted Image.]
This episode was directed by Mitchell Leisen who does a nice job with the pacing of the story.  He also brings out great performances from all the actors.  The screenplay from veteran TV writer Mel Goldberg was nicely adapted from a novel by Evelyn Berckman entitled "The Beckoning Dream."  Nicely done.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the episode's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Thriller: Child's Play (1960)

Season 1, Episode 2

No, this has nothing to do with Chucky!  It's all about little Hank in this episode of Thriller.  Hank's parents are trying to save a crumbling marriage while failing to notice that their imaginative son is having trouble separating reality from fantasy.  Tom Nolan is very good as Hank.  He embodies the character with a 1960's boy next door with a little crazy underneath.  Bethel Leslie and Frank Overton are really compelling as Hank's parents.  They both give strong, heart-felt performances.
While this is not as suspenseful as the season opener, director Arthur Hiller [who also directed the first episode] keeps things moving at a nice pace.  The screenplay is solid as well.  While Child's Play pulls no big surprises, it is still a well done little thriller.  
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the episode's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Thriller: The Twisted Image (1960)

In the early 60's Boris Karloff hosted a delightful TV series entitled Thriller.  It began as a collection of crime and mystery stories but later became a showcase for horror.  I'm going to review each episode separately because they deserve it.  Thankfully, Thriller is available to watch instantly on Netflix so future generations can enjoy this well made show.  You can buy the series on Amazon as well but it's a bit pricey.
Season 1, Episode 1
Leslie Nielsen [Forbidden Planet, Mars Attacks] stars as Alan Patterson, a business executive who is stalked by two separate people. [I hate when that happens!]  This taunt thriller is well acted and nicely paced.  It's a good old-fashioned crime story that would work just as well today as did in 1960.  Director Arthur Hiller [Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Perry Mason] keeps the action moving along and builds the suspense nicely through the episode.  His job was made easy by script writer James P. Cavanaugh [Alfred Hitchcock Presents] who adapted William O'Farrel's novel [Alfred Hitchcock Presents].  In addition to Nielsen the cast also includes veteran character actor George Grizzard and Natalie Trundy who has the most amazing eyes I've ever seen.  She also went on to star in all the Planet of the Apes movies.  All three actors are excellent in their roles.  Nicely done.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the episode's entry in IMDB.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Night Stalker (1972)

I don't often say this, but sometimes television gets it right.  Usually when we hear the words "made for TV movie" we envision an sappy after school special with a moral lesson attached to it.  Or we think of a film that was not good enough to cut it on the big screen.  The Night Stalker is neither of these.  In fact, it spawned one of the best horror TV series of all time.  The movie that started it all is a highly original take on the crime drama genre with elements of horror and a central character that is a reporter rather than a cop.  Darren McGaven, who also played the father in A Christmas Story, is near perfect as Carl Kolchak.  He's flawed, determined, ambitious and altogether human.  I love what he does with this character and it's easy to see why the audience wanted more.
The movie centers on a series of murders that are happening in the city of Las Vegas.  The cops seem clueless as to who is behind these murders but Kolchak figures out it is a vampire and spend the rest of the movie trying to convince the cops he's right.  The Night Stalker also has quite a bit of humor thrown in for good measure.  It's not the slapstick kind of humor found in Evil Dead.  It's the humor that flows from ridiculous and frustrating life experiences.  McGaven delivers it completely deadpan and it works for him.
The good news is that the movie and the TV series can now be streamed on Netflix.  The boxed set is a bit pricey so it's nice that The Night stalker can be seen by a wider audience.  I remember watching the TV series as a kid and it scared the crap out of me...but I never missed an episode.  Watching The Night Stalker as an adult makes me appreciate how well made the TV series and movie are in terms of script writing and acting.  Nicely done.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Evil Dead 2 (1987)

Dear Sweet Jesus!  This is one intense film and a worthy sequel to the original.  Director Sam Raimi turns up the special effects, the gore and the humor in this eye-popping gross out horror comedy.  Bruce Campbell is brilliant as our antihero Ash.  Very few people can pull off the physical comedy he does.  A great example of this is the scene where he is fighting his demon possessed hand.  There are no stunt doubles used here; just pure, raw talent.  It's a sight to behold.  The rest of the cast is great as well and serve to drive the story forward at lightning speed.  The viewer is almost afraid to blink for fear they will miss something.  A bathroom break is simply not possible without using the pause button on your remote.
Granted, Evil Dead II is not everyone's cup of tea.  If you hated the first film, you will most certainly hate the sequel.  There is more blood squirt and demon ooze projected in Evil Dead II than a thousand Exorcist movies.  How they got this one past the censors in 1987 simply baffles me.  But even if you dislike this kind of film, you cannot deny the unique vision of Sam Raimi who inspired a number of modern horror filmmakers.  Evil Dead II is that rare breed of horror films that dares to be as gut wrenching as it is funny.  This is no easy task and Raimi pulls it off flawlessly.  I dare you not to feel exhausted after watching this film.  There is so much going on in terms of inventive effects and sight gags that repeated viewings are absolutely necessary to appreciate everything Raimi and his effects gurus bring to the table.  [Watch the "making of" featurette on the DVD to learn how they made this film come to life.  It's quite fascinating and a tribute to the incredibly talented people who worked on this film.]
If you're idea of a good time is watching The History Channel, then skip Evil Dead II.  If you have a strong stomach, a twisted imagination and like your humor very dark, then this one is tailor made for you.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.